A Thanksgiving Cheese Basket to Cure Pre-Dinner Hanger

Our Resident Cheese Plater, Marissa Mullen, shows us how to make the perfect holiday appetizer with festive flair.

November 11, 2020
Photo by Marissa Mullen

That Cheese Plate is a column by Marissa Mullen—cookbook author, photographer, and Food52's Resident Cheese Plater. With Marissa's expertise all things cheddar, comté, and crudité—plus tips for how to make it all look extra special, using stuff you probably have on hand—we'll be crafting our own cheesy masterpieces without a hitch.

When I think of Thanksgiving, I envision a big golden turkey roasting in the oven; warm, thick gravy; creamy mashed potatoes; and tart cranberry sauce. I usually try to save my appetite for dinner, but as these delicious warm fragrances tempt me, I'm usually hungry for an appetizer long before the big meal. Thanksgiving cheese boards are the perfect way to satiate your guests a few hours before the hot dishes are ready. You can pace yourself, create small portions, and opt in for fruit and protein to pass the time.

There are a few different techniques to make your Thanksgiving cheese plate stand out. To start, we need a solid foundation. Why not use a rustic basket? This classic Thanksgiving cheese board is not only festive, it's also easy to transport! Baskets are a great way to establish a theme, while simultaneously providing a convenient appetizer to carry to your gathering, mess-free. To achieve the look of this creation, I placed a glass round plate at the base of the basket for my stable surface to build on. For another classic Thanksgiving look, you can build a cheese board out of a cornucopia. Layer your cheese and meats to flow out the opening of the cone. I'd recommend building this one on site, so you don't need to move it.

Gourds & Boards

Another way to amp up your Thanksgiving board is to add a few gourds. Although pumpkin spice season is quickly fading away, it's nice to add in some extra autumnal flair with different green, orange, and yellow gourds. I added one to the actual plate and a few on the side as table decorations. Just make sure your guests don't accidentally mistake a gourd for cheese.

Cheese Picks

On all of my cheese plates, I like to pick a nice variety of cheese to choose from. Think about different milks (cow, goat, sheep, buffalo, even cashew cheese!) and different textures (hard and soft.) On this plate, I stayed away from the decadent and heavy cheeses, like camembert blue, or a triple creme Brie.

I decided to add a lighter cheese, like a soft-ripened goat cheese. I also added a 14-month aged Gruyère and a washed rind cow's milk cheese (like Taleggio or Epoisses). The goat cheese has nice floral notes, herbaceous overtones, and a clean citrus finish, while the Gruyère has more complex, earthy tones with nutty and caramelly flavors. The washed-rind cheese is the stinky one of the bunch, with a pungent kick and funky notes of cider and hay. Each of these cheeses work wonderfully with sweeter accoutrements, so I included a variety of dried fruits to complement.

Autumnal Colors

I tied in the range of orange, red, yellow, and brown tones to incorporate feelings of Thanksgiving. The cranberries and pomegranate seeds add beautiful earthy tones to the board. Additionally, salami di Parma adds a nice pink hue down the center of the plate in a Salami River formation. Salami is an excellent pairing, providing a pleasant tangy complement to the cheese. The dried apricot, washed rind cow's milk cheese, and mini gourd highlight the orange tones on this plate, while the seeded crackers, dried figs and candied nuts sprinkle in the notes of brown. I also added in some fresh thyme for a pop of green.

Perfect Pairings

Now how do these beautiful colors and flavors all work together? Pairings are largely personal, but there are some different techniques to try. I love pairing salty and sweet items, but you don't want to overpower your cheese. Try juxtaposing items of similar intensities. I love the soft-ripened goat cheese paired with the fig jam. I also enjoy pairing the pungent washed rind cheese with a sweet candied walnut. Another great savory and salty pairing is aged Gruyère with salami.

Safe Serving

To serve your cheese, provide a small plate for all involved. Using cheese knives, utensils, spoons, and forks, encouraging everyone to make their own mini creation out of the bigger plate to avoid cross-contamination. This plate can comfortably feed 6 to 8 people as an appetizer (and fewer than that for an all-day grazing situation). If you'd like to serve it with extra crackers, keep them on the side in an additional basket.

What would go in your ideal Thanksgiving cheese basket? Let us know in the comments.
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Marissa Mullen is a Brooklyn-based food stylist, recipe developer, photographer and cheese lover. She is the founder of That Cheese Plate and creator of the Cheese By Numbers method. She is also the author of the best-selling cookbook, That Cheese Plate Will Change Your Life, a step-by-step styling guide for crafting beautiful and delicious cheese plates as a form of creative expression. Featured on The Today Show, The Rachael Ray Show, Business Insider, Vox among others, Marissa is dedicated to bringing people together through creativity, food and entertainment.